Defense Stands Tall as Blue Hens Advance to FCS Championship Game with 27-10 Win over Georgia Southern; Will Head to Texas to Take on Top-Ranked Eastern Washington Jan. 7
December 18, 2010
Photos from top: Chris Morales (#98), Pat Devlin (#17), Andrew Pierce (#30), Matt Marcorelle (#11), Darryl Jones (#3) Celebrates with fans (Photos Courtesy of Mark Campbell)
NEWARK, Del. -- The University of Delaware can once again give thanks to the Blue Hen defense. And this time the reward is a trip to Frisco, Tex. and a chance at yet another national football championship.
The fifth-ranked Blue Hens took advantage of four Georgia Southern turnovers, including one at UD’s own goal-line in the first quarter that set the tone for the rest of the day, as Delaware rode that momentum to a 27-10 NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision semifinal victory Saturday afternoon at Delaware Stadium.
Delaware (12-2), the tournament’s No. 3 seed, posted its third straight victory and earned the right to take on No. 1 ranked and fifth-seeded Eastern Washington (13-2) in the national championship game Jan. 7 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Tex. The Hens, owners of six national titles, won the FCS national title in 2003 and advanced to the title game in 2007. Eastern Washington advanced to its first ever FCS title game with a 41-31 victory over Delaware’s rival Villanova Friday night in Cheney, Wash.
A Colonial Athletic Association team will play in the FCS national championship game for the fifth straight season and for the seventh time in the last eight years.
The loss ended a storybook post-season for the 20th-ranked Eagles (10-5), who earned at-large berth in the tournament and knocked off South Carolina State, No. 2 seed William & Mary, and Wofford in succession before having its six-game win streak snapped by the Blue Hens. The Eagles moved deep into the post-season despite a youthful team that features just one senior starter.
“It took a great team effort to get this win today,” said Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler, who improved to 11-2 in NCAA playoff action in his nine seasons at Delaware and remained undefeated at home in the post-season with a mark of 8-0. “We did a phenomenal job getting ready for this game. The big difference today was that we made some big plays and they didn’t. It was really good to get some seven-pointers (touchdowns) when we were down close. Getting turnovers was something we really focused on this week and we thought we would have some chances. It was a big boost for our defense to keep them out of the end zone.”
Keeler, who coached for nine seasons at NCAA Division III Rowan (N.J.) University before returning to his alma mater, ranks No. 2 among all collegiate head coaches with 10 trips to the NCAA semifinals. He is headed to the NCAA championship game for the eighth time in his career, including his third time as mentor of the Blue Hens.
“The atmosphere in the stadium was tremendous today,” added Keeler. “The crowd support was outstanding. It is so great to share these moments with these players. We spend so much time together and it makes us very close. The senior leadership on this team has been off the charts and the players’ attention to detail has been excellent. This will be the eighth championship game I have coached and I have learned a lot of lessons. One of them is to let the players enjoy the moment.”
All-American senior safety Anthony Bratton recorded a team-high 14 tackles, sophomore linebacker Paul Worrilow added 12 tackles and forced two fumbles, and junior defensive end Chris Morales, hobbled by a sore hamstring that almost kept him out of action, recovered two fumbles, including one on the goal-line on Georgia Southern’s first drive of the day when it looked like the Eagles were moving in for the first score of the day.
Delaware, which entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 11.6 points per game, didn’t capitalize on that turnover, but it set the tone for the rest of the day as the Hens won despite gaining 316 total yards, just six more than the Eagles, whose vaunted tripe-option attack netted 310 yards, including 257 on the ground.
Senior quarterback Pat Devlin, the 2010 Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Year, was efficient as usual for the Hens, completing 14 of 20 passes for 137 yards and touchdown tosses of six yards to junior Mark Schenauer to open the scoring early in the second quarter 24 yards to Phillip Thaxton in the third quarter that pushed the Blue Hen lead to 17-3.
Delaware freshman running back Andrew Pierce, the CAA Rookie of the Year, enjoyed his most productive day since early in the season, rambling for 186 yards on 26 carries and piling up 53 yards on two successive carries in the third quarter that set up a seven-yard scoring run by David Hayes that put the game out of reach at 24-10 with 6:05 remaining.
Blue Hen junior kicker Mike Perry also made a big contribution, converting two field goals, including a 20-yarder with 3:32 left to play that pushed the lead to 27-10 and iced the win.
Members of the Blue Hen squad doused Keeler with water with three minutes left in the game and several Delaware players jumped into the stands to celebrate with UD students as part of a wild celebration after the final horn sounded.
Jerick McKinnon led the Georgia Southern offense with 101 yards rushing while Darreion Robinson added 49 yards, Robert Brown ran for 49 yards and scored the Eagles’ lone touchdown midway through the final stanza to pull GSU to within one score of the lead, and J.J. Wilcox added 48 yards rushing and caught two of the team’s four completed passes. Brown went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, becoming the first GSU freshman to accomplish the feat since 1987.
Georgia Southern had the momentum early as the Eagles held Delaware to three plays and a punt on the first possession of the game and then charged down the field on their first drive, moving 69 yards on eight plays to the Blue Hen one-yard line. But Georgia Southern quarterback Jaybo Shaw mishandled a snap on the next play and fumbled into the end zone where Morales was there to scoop it up and advance the ball out to the 18-yard line.
“Getting that ball was huge,” said Morales, who also added a sack and two other tackles on the day. “We knew that we needed to stop them at the one-yard line because we didn’t want to fall behind. It was really a big play for us.”
The Hens didn’t score on their next drive, but after holding GSU on its next possession, got on the board on its next drive, taking the lead for good in what was one of its longest drives of the season. Devlin directed the Hens on a 16-play, 85-yard march that consumed 7:42 and culminated with his six-yard strike to a wide-open Schenauer in the back of the end zone. Schenauer caught a touchdown pass for the third straight playoff game after being held without a touchdown during his first 28 career appearances.
Delaware upped the lead to 10-0 on a 21-yard field goal by Perry with 2:06 left in the second quarter to end a 67-yard drive and then came up with another big turnover just before the half to keep Georgia Southern off the scoreboard. Laron Scott returned a kickoff 52 yards to give Georgia Southern the ball at the Delaware 38-yard line. But four plays later Worrilow knocked the ball loose from Wilcox and Darryl Jones recovered at the UD 18-yard line to end the threat.
The Eagles finally got on the board on their first possession of the second half as Adrian Mora booted a 40-yard field goal - his 19th in 21 tries this season - to cut the lead to 10-3 with 11:59 left in the third quarter. After stopping the Hens on downs, GSU had a chance to tie the game up but Shaw was sacked by Worrilow at the UD 30-yard line and fumbled with Delaware’s Siddiq Haynes recovering. Delaware took advantage right away, driving 63 yards on the next possession with Devlin hitting Thaxton on a 24-yard scoring pass to push the lead to 17-3. Thaxton, playing despite a sore ankle, caught the ball in the right flat and ran untouched into the end zone, getting a big block from guard Will Nagle that sprung him loose.
But Georgia Southern was not going to go way easily. The Eagles came right back to make it a one possession game on their next drive, moving 64 yards on 14 plays and pulling to within 17-10 on a six-yard scoring run by Brown off tackle with 7:37 left to play.
Delaware then put the game away as the Hens took the ensuing kickoff and drove 60 yards in just 1:26. Pierce rushed 18 yards on the first down and followed that up with a 38-yard scamper down the left side on the next play. Hayes then finished the job with a seven-yard burst up the middle that upped the lead to 24-10 with 6:05 left.
The Hens then took advantage of another GSU miscue as Morales stepped in front of an errant pitch by Shaw and returned the fumble seven yards to the Eagle 13-yard line. After five straight runs by Pierce, the Hens iced the game with a 20-yard field goal by Perry with 3:32 left. The Hens gained one more turnover for good measure as Tyrone Grant picked off Shaw with 2:43 left to play and then ran out the clock.
“This is why I came to Delaware,” said Devlin, who played three seasons at Penn State before transferring to Delaware prior to the 2009 season. “I came here to win championships and to play in big games. We have already won our conference, now we are looking for more.”
“It’s a great feeling to get back there,” said Bratton, who started for the 2007 squad that finished as national runner-up. “I thought we would have a chance again during my career. We feel like we have 17 seniors and 17 captains. Everyone on this team has one goal and one mission.”
Hen Scratchings...Delaware has now won 12 straight games and 16 of their last 17 when scoring first....the teams met in the NCAA playoffs for the third time - all at Delaware Stadium - with Delaware posting a 16-7 win in the 1997 quarterfinals and Georgia Southern winning 27-18 in the 2000 semifinals...Keeler earned his first career win at Delaware over Georgia Southern when the Hens won 22-19 in the 2002 season opener...Delaware senior offensive tackle Kevin Uhll and senior tight end and deep snapper Zach Reed each played in his 52nd career game Saturday, tying the UD career record of 52 by tight end Rick Lavelle in 2000-03....the NCAA FCS championship game will be held in Frisco for the first time after taking place in Chattanooga, Tenn. the previous 13 seasons..Delaware senior WR Tommy Crosby was hit hard while making a block in the second half and momentarily lost consciousness. He was attended to on the field for nearly 15 minutes before being taken to Christiana (Del.) Hospital where tests were negative but he was being kept overnight for observation...Delaware has won 12 games in a season for the seventh time in school history and for the first time since a 15-1 mark during the 2003 national championship season.